“One simple medication, not a handful of pills, treats all of my different ailments with no side effects. I feel like a real human being and am able to be the grandmother I want to be. My friends have all commented on how much better I am these days. I tell them I have a little bit of magic in my life.”

– Anne-Marie, Nelson.

The positive effects of medicinal cannabis and CBD in improving people’s lives are well documented and peer-reviewed scientific research is now emerging to support this. Scientists believe the chemical molecules in cannabis can provide a range of physical and psychological health benefits. Internationally, scientists are conducting pre-clinical and clinical trials to test the efficacy of cannabis and its extracts to treat diseases that affect the immune system, inflammation, pain, seizures, Multiple Sclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Motor Neurone disease), cancer (including tumour reduction and symptom control of pain and nausea), metabolism / weight control and psychological disorders.

As we continue to learn more about its therapeutic benefits and pharmaceutical uses, the demand is increasing. We just need to look at the experience of our partner company, UK-based Vitality CBD to see the dramatic increase in demand for their products.

Vitality CBD has seen user numbers in the UK increase from 375,000 in 2018, to 1.3 million in 2019. This significant growth was due to the increase of availability of the product.

Medicinal cannabis and CBD in New Zealand

Until recently, cannabis has been a globally prohibited substance, with the vast majority of people unaware of its medicinal properties and those who have wanted to use it facing crippling costs and zero or severely restricted supply.

For the past couple of years some CBD products have been available on prescription. Currently Ministerial approval is required before more medicinal cannabis products can be prescribed, supplied or administered. Thankfully this is set to change thanks to the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis Amendment) Act.

In December 2019, New Zealand’s Government passed legislation intended to improve access to medicinal cannabis products. Under the legislative changes, a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme will enable domestic cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products, and enable the setting of minimum quality standards for products and all stages of production.

A major opportunity now exists for companies to leverage New Zealand’s provenance, reputation for innovation and areas of competitive advantage to cultivate, produce and sell medicinal cannabis and CBD wellness products domestically and globally.

The market for medicinal cannabis in New Zealand is currently difficult to quantify, however the Ministry of Health estimates that more than 250,000 casual cannabis users use it for medicinal purposes.

There are approximately 25,000 New Zealanders that need or could benefit from palliative care each year, just one area of society that will benefit from the introduction of medicinal cannabis products. (Business Wire, 2018)

This highlights a significant, existing domestic market opportunity.

Medicinal cannabis 101

The two main cannabinoids from the cannabis plant that are of medical interest are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has been shown to have significant medical and wellbeing benefits. It can decrease pain, inflammation and muscle control problems, as well as improving sleep and appetite, reducing nausea and helping psychoactive disorders. Importantly, CBD is a cannabinoid that doesn’t make people “high”.

There are three strains of cannabis in the cannabis plant family:

Indica:

Short and bushy, with wide leaves and tightly packed flowers. Possessing an earthy, musky perfume and a shorter growth cycle.

Sativa:

Tall and spindly, with short thin leaves and loose flowers. Sativa has a spicy or floral scent and is popular for its uplifting effects on mood.

Hybrid:

Hybrids are developed by plant breeders to create new varieties of cannabis with specific characteristics. With the benefit of extensive research, it is possible to cultivate hybrid strains to target specific medicinal and wellbeing applications.

The endocannabinoid system and cannabis

The human body is made up of many different systems. No doubt you’ve heard of a number of them, the digestive, nervous, muscular, respiratory and reproductive systems to name a few. Chances are you haven’t heard of the endocannabinoid system which is involved in regulating a variety of functions including sleep, appetite, pain and immune system responses. You’re not alone. A 2013 survey, “Ignorance is not bliss found that only 13% of medical schools in the United States of America teach future doctors about the endocannabinoid system. Research is now finding is that medicinal cannabis and CBD can trigger the system naturally to limit inflammation and repair cells, among other therapeutic benefits.

Endocannabinoids are some of the chemical messengers that tell your body to react to mood, pain, sensation and inflammation and, more importantly, when to stop. Like the other systems in our bodies, our endocannabinoid system can become depleted and need to be supplemented, just as you would for an iron or vitamin deficiency. Scientists now believe the chemical molecules in cannabis can interact with the system to provide a range of physical and psychological health benefits.

This new found understanding of the endocannabinoid system and the benefits of medicinal cannabis and CBD, together with legislative changes making the industry legal in more and more countries, is resulting in a dramatic increase in scientific research around the world. Many of the studies are confirming medicinal cannabis may help treat a variety of ailments and replace the current pharmaceuticals being prescribed for managing and treating pain and diseases.

Got questions? Let’s answer them

New Zealand society is slowly becoming aware of the benefits of medicinal cannabis and CBD and attitudes are shifting, along with legislation. Because medicinal cannabis is an emerging product there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. We’ve answered some of the questions we get asked most often.

What is medicinal cannabis?

Medicinal cannabis is cannabis and cannabinoids that are prescribed by physicians for their patients that may be used to treat various medical conditions.

Is medicinal cannabis legal in New Zealand?

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act allows for a much broader use of medicinal cannabis products. Approved cannabis-based pharmaceuticals can be prescribed by a specialist doctor, but requires patients to meet strict criteria.

Will the referendum on recreational cannabis affect Medical Kiwi?

The referendum does not impact Medical Kiwi’s business. The referendum is focused on the legislation of cannabis for non-medical use. This is different to the legislation passed in December 2019, which allowed for the development of medicinal cannabis and cannabinoid products prescribed by physicians for their patients, like those Medical Kiwi will be producing.

How do you use medicinal cannabis and CBD wellness products?

Medicinal cannabis and CBD can be taken in several forms, including: 

  • orally as a tincture or via oil filled capsules
  • topically via skin creams and transdermal patches
  • infused into food products such as olive oil; or 
  • vaporised for respiratory delivery.

Each method works differently in your body.

What are the health and wellbeing benefits of medical cannabis and CBD?

Internationally there have been hundreds of clinical studies and significant first-hand anecdotal evidence demonstrating the vast medical benefits of this natural product. Among others, researchers are reporting success in testing medicinal cannabis and CBD for treating:

  • endometriosis
  • dementia
  • autism
  • bi-polar affective disorder
  • depression
  • autoimmune and inflammatory disorders
  • Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis
  • irritable bowel and irritable bladder
  • treatment resistant epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders
  • fibromyalgia
  • migraine
  • the effects of stroke and cardiac emergencies
  • metabolism, diabetes and weight dosorders
  • cancer
  • neuropathic pain
  • chronic pain
  • insomnia
  • spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients.

That’s a list that makes you sit up and take notice!

Do medicinal cannabis and CBD work?

Medical Kiwi Director (Medical), Dr David Porter, has seen first-hand the positive impact medicinal cannabis and CBD can have. “I’ve been prescribing CBD for the past 18 months since it became legal, for my fibromyalgia patients. Conventional pharmaceuticals tend to be ineffective at treating this condition and commonly cause debilitating side effects like drowsiness or mental fogginess. In stark contrast, CBD has proven to be head and shoulders above other treatments in terms of its lack of side effects, most importantly, but also the very considerable benefits to sleep, relaxation and pain relief. It is by far the most beneficial treatment I’ve used for these patients.”

Anecdotal feedback from Dr Porter’s patients support this, with comments about the hugely important improvement to their quality and quantity of sleep. Patients have told Dr Porter that they have experienced mental and physical calmness without the sense that a drug is doing it. Patients often mention they have greater mental alertness which is a really big deal in fibromyalgia where patients regularly complain of foggy thinking. And last, but not least, an improvement in pain.

Where can I read more?

  • The Health Europa Medical Cannabis Network has the latest medical cannabis news from across the field of European healthcare and social care policy: Click here.
  • An introduction to the endocannabinoid system: A description of the lipid signaling system essential to health, healing and homeostasis, long excluded from the medical school curriculum. Read it here.

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